Here’s a chance to test your diversity-etiquette IQ by matching your answers against those of our experts in this multiple-choice test. Not everyone will agree with the answers our experts have provided. Clearly, there often is no right or wrong answer. Still, we offer this tentative road map to the evolving new manners of the workplace.
1. A woman in your office is very private about her personal life. You suspect she’s a lesbian, but you want her to know that’s OK with you. So you:
* A. Tell a few lesbian jokes to provoke comment
* B. Invite her out for a drink to talk about it
* C. Mind your own business
The answer is C. She has every right to keep her personal life as private as she wants to, and many lesbian and gay men in the workplace have reason to be fearful of their sexual orientation becoming known. However, if you are supportive and she’s ready to talk about it, she will. You cannot force the issue. As for the other two choices, the first option could be construed as harassment, and inviting her out for a drink might also be construed as sexual harassment, whether you’re a man or a woman.
2. Your male boss has taped a photo of a scantily clad woman from a lingerie catalogue on the wall of his office cubicle. Each time you confer with him, you are forced to see this photo, which you find inappropriate for the workplace. What do you do?
* A. Put up a Chippendale’s male dancer poster
* B. Talk to him about it
* C. Talk to his supervisor about it
The answer is B. Our experts recommend using the most informal method initially. You might say, “That photo makes me uncomfortable, and I’d appreciate it if you took it down.” If talking individually to him doesn’t work, you could ask him to meet with a group of women co-workers to show that you are not the only one who finds the picture offensive. Do not post your own poster; you do not want to escalate the situation by stooping to his level.
3. You are an executive in a medium-sized company. Lately you have been hearing a lot of grumbling and complaints about Susan, a mid-level manager. After some investigation, it becomes apparent that Susan is not doing her job, although there’s no smoking gun that would allow you to fire her immediately. Plus, you have another problem: Your company needs to show that its management ranks include a certain percentage of women and minorities, and Susan is both. Still, you are increasingly worried about flagging morale. What do you do?
* A. Fire Susan
* B. Ignore the situation; eventually it will go away
* C. Explain to the staff why firing Susan would cause a problem
* D. Talk with Susan
The answer is D. In fact, our experts say not talking with Susan on a regular basis could have caused the problem in the first place. Part of your job includes providing employees with feedback about how to improve their performance. As a boss, you have a responsibility to develop her talents and communicate with her regularly so things don’t degenerate to the point where you have to fire her. However, if after talking and coaching Susan, you conclude that she is still not performing up to company standards, fire her and document it. Otherwise, you would be supporting an incompetent person to the detriment of everyone.
4. You are a white male. Several new positions have been created at your company, but the informal buzz is that they are being reserved for “a certain type of person.” You want to apply but fear that you are not the right color or gender. How do you handle the situation?
* A. You ask your boss whether you should apply
* B. You let it slide and complain to your colleagues in private that white men just don’t stand a chance at this place
* C. You apply
The answer is A. Our experts advise being as direct and upfront as possible in this situation. Tell your boss you are interested in the position but that you have heard the job may be reserved. Then ask whether it’s appropriate for you to apply. If you have a good boss, he or she will be honest in answering. The boss has a responsibility to tell you whether the job is reserved and why. The boss may tell you, “We need a person of that gender or race in this company because we realize we need different points of view and voices as we make our business decisions.”
5. You are a woman working in a mostly male office. You feel shut out of social interactions with your colleagues and bosses because the men cluster together at every opportunity to discuss sports. You couldn’t be more bored by the topic, but you realize you are missing important opportunities to schmooze and bond socially with higher-ups. You also have a nagging feeling they are doing this to exclude you. You should:
* A. Seethe silently
* B. Bone up on sports so you can take part in this important ritual
* C. Say something
The answer is C. You don’t want to stop men from enjoying their sports confabs, but you also want to feel included and to reap the benefits of these informal relationships. You might say, “Hey, I’m really not interested in sports, but I’d like to be included in conversations, so can we find some other topic in common that we can discuss?” The trick is not to imply that the men are behaving badly, which will only alienate them, but to make it clear what your needs are and that you want to feel included.
6. You work with a person of color. You like this person and want to become more friendly but feel awkward in conversation. You’re not sure how to refer to him or her. As a black? African American? Nor are you sure how to refer to Mexican Americans. By that term or Hispanic? Chicano? Latino? What is the appropriate and sensitive way to proceed?
* A. You play it safe and avoid the topic
* B. You float a term like a trial balloon and wait for the person’s reaction
* C. You ask the person what he or she would like to be called
The answer is C. The reason you feel uncomfortable is because in our society we think it’s inappropriate to introduce and discuss such topics. You might tell your colleague that while you feel awkward about being so blunt, you are bringing up the subject so you can learn. This sets the tone for further communication and dialogue.
7. You are Japanese American. Your boss and some of her colleagues are discussing where to go for lunch. They want Chinese food. Your boss sees you and exclaims happily, “Let’s ask May! She’ll know.” You:
* A. Say, “Why don’t we ask a Chinese American person; I’m Japanese American.”
* B. Make an ethnic joke
* C. Say, “How would I know?”
The answer is A. Don’t assume your boss is a racist, but don’t let it pass unregarded. Take the middle ground. Try to engage your boss in a conversation that will educate her.
8. You’re walking into your office building when you see someone who is apparently partially paralyzed struggling to open the door. You:
* A. Rush up and hold the door open
* B. Stand back and wait for the person or go to another door to avoid the situation
* C. Ask if the person would like help
The answer is C. Don’t make any assumptions--ask instead. When people see someone with a disability, they often assume they don’t have to ask for permission to help. But that is condescending. However uncomfortable it may be, ask first.
9. You are a black female manager. Yesterday you were having lunch in a restaurant with a colleague when you overheard a conversation between Brad, one of your young, white, male employees, and his lunch companion. Brad was complaining vehemently about the lack of opportunity for white men in your group. He said all the recent promotions have gone either to women or people of color, and he threatened to see an attorney because he believes he is a victim of reverse discrimination. What do you do?
* A. Stop by Brad’s table on the way out to say hello
* B. Ignore what you heard because Brad was on his own time
* C. Enroll Brad in the company’s next diversity training workshop
* D. Talk to Brad about what you heard
The answer is D and possibly C. Although it might be easier to ignore what you heard, the situation should be handled in a more direct way. Talk to Brad and explain that you inadvertently overheard his conversation and ask him to share more of his thoughts and opinions with you.
Many white men today feel “out of the loop” and passed over for promotions. Some also fail to see women and people of color as individuals, instead focusing on them as representatives of groups that are taking something away from them because of affirmative action programs or government intervention.
In your talk, try to help Brad explore why he’s not being promoted and others are. Also try to help him realize that he is still valued as a member of your staff. It is your job to help Brad see that diversity is a workplace reality that will not go away. You could send Brad to a diversity training course, but this should not be seen as a punishment, and it must be reinforced by discussions before, during and after the training.
10. You’re a male employee who’s receiving love notes from a female co-worker. She wears low cut blouses, leans over your desk, brushes up against you whenever she gets a chance. Everyone in the office thinks it’s a joke, including your boss, but you’re not laughing. You’ve already told her to stop, but she won’t. What should you do?
* A. Complain to a co-worker and find a way to retaliate
* B. Go to your boss, even though he thinks the whole thing is a joke
* C. File an EEOC complaint
The answer is B. You need to go through your direct supervisor first, even if he thinks it’s a joke. You should also put your complaints in writing so there will be a paper trail. Your complaint will then have to make its way up the ladder through the company. It is necessary to follow the chain of command and exhaust in-house remedies before seeking outside action.
11. Maria is a Latina being interviewed for a corporate position. She feels the interview is going well. As it winds down, Maria’s prospective boss says: “Gee, I really admire your ambition. It must have been tough for you to leave your roots behind in order to succeed in the business world.” How should Maria respond?
* A. Let it pass, fearing that if she calls him on his racist comment, she won’t get the job
* B. Make a snide comment back
* C. Regardless of whether Maria gets the job, she should remind him of what he said and explain why she found it upsetting
The answer is C. Whether Maria gets the job or not, she should tell her interviewer afterward that she was offended. Of course, this is a measured risk. Sometimes, when unpleasant comments are made, one has to ask: “Is this a battle I want to fight?” You can win the war, but you can’t win every battle. On the other hand, Maria may decide she doesn’t want to work at a company where people feel free to make such comments.
12. You are a woman who regularly attends management meetings that are dominated by men. One of the men has a penchant for telling sexist jokes. He thinks they’re funny; you find them offensive. What should you do?
* A. Say nothing and hope it doesn’t happen again, but secretly prepare your own sexist jokes aimed at men
* B. Boycott the meetings
* C. Challenge the man and his joke. Say, “I don’t believe this is happening in this room and I find it offensive.”
* D. Go to the boss
There are several ways to handle this common office problem. One choice is C, challenging the joke teller. However, our experts say that if the man persists in telling such jokes, complaining to the boss is the next step.
13. You supervise a group that is composed of three-person teams. Today, one of your white employees came in to talk to you about two other team members. She says they frequently speak Spanish when the three of them are working together and she feels left out. She also thinks they are talking about her. She wants you to stop them from speaking Spanish during working hours. You:
* A. Tell her you think she’s overreacting
* B. Have a group meeting and talk to all of your employees about the issue
* C. Agree to the employee’s request and issue a written memo saying that only English will be spoken in the workplace
* D. Talk to the three people involved
The answer is D and possibly B. Although you cannot stop the two employees from speaking their native language, you can talk about the impact of speaking in a language that other team members don’t understand.
It would also be helpful to determine if there’s a valid reason for their choosing to speak Spanish on the job. Often, employees find it more convenient to communicate work problems in the language they are most comfortable with. If these employees are not fluent in English, perhaps you should provide language training.
The white employee’s complaint is not unusual. She feels left out and assumes that the other two people are talking about her. You should make it clear that you are not forbidding the employees to speak in their native language, but rather asking them to include her and be sensitive to her feelings.
14. John is a 30-year-old black man who has worked in your group for three years. He has an MBA from one of the best business schools in the country and is one of your top performers. An opportunity for a promotion just came up in the corporate office, and you recommended John for the job.
A colleague in the corporate office has other thoughts. Although he is complimentary of John’s work, he doesn’t feel John is “right for the job.” The problem is that John is viewed as arrogant and cocky. Further, John ruffled a few feathers when he challenged the company president about his commitment to diversity during an open forum meeting.
Your colleague said he would interview John but offered little hope that John would get the job. He even hinted that you’d be jeopardizing your own career by sponsoring John. What should you do?
* A. Sponsor John for the position and let him take his chances during the interview
* B. Heed your colleague’s warning. After all, you don’t want to put your career in jeopardy
* C. Sponsor John but give him some coaching before the interview
The answer is C. You should give John as much help as possible in assessing whether this is the right job for him, as well as in preparing for the interview. It would probably be inappropriate for you to share what your colleague said, but it might be useful to give John feedback on how some people perceive him.
Part of a manager’s job is to support their employees and act as sponsors or mentors, which often involves giving feedback based on subjective information. You should be prepared to talk to John about your own view of his work and his behavior.
Assessment of someone’s self-confidence is often based on other feelings we have about the person. Minority men have complained that their self-confidence is perceived as arrogance, while the same trait is viewed more positively in their white colleagues.
If you feel John’s self-confidence is unnecessarily inflated and unseemly, he needs to hear this and have the opportunity to improve.
15. You are a corporate manager interviewing applicants for a marketing job that would include some travel and putting on seminars. One of the applicants, Mel, uses a wheelchair. You have concerns about whether his disability would interfere with the job requirements. You want to bring up the subject but aren’t sure how to handle it. You:
* A. Level with Mel, telling him that despite his qualifications, you worry that his disability will affect his ability to do the job
* B. Ignore the issue, thank Mel and put his application in the circular file
* C. Ask Mel to describe how he would handle the job on a daily basis
The answer is C. With reasonable accommodation, 90% of all jobs can be done by 90% of all working-age people with disabilities. Chances are that if Mel is qualified, his disability will pose no problem.
You should focus on Mel’s experience, qualifications and ability to do the job, not his disability. But don’t be afraid to discuss in an open, straightforward manner how he would approach his job duties and what accommodations, if any, might be necessary. Under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, answer B would constitute discrimination. Answer A could be discriminatory.
The Diversity IQ Experts
The answers to our “diversity IQ” test were provided by the following group of experts.
* Ed Mickens, a business columnist for the Advocate and publisher of Working It Out, the Newsletter for Gay and Lesbian Employment Issues.
* Alan Reich, president of the National Organization on Disability, a Washington-based nonprofit group that promotes full participation of Americans with disabilities in all aspects of life.
* Gerda Steele, a Pasadena-based diversity expert who runs G.G. Steele Consulting.
* Joy Hawkins of Joy Hawkins & Associates, a Los Angeles-based organization development consultant firm specializing in diversity and leadership issues.
* Elsie Cross, who runs Elsie Y. Cross Associates, an organization development consultant firm in Philadelphia.